Jun 03, 2020


When was the Dam safety bill introduced? 

The Dam Safety Bill, 2019 was passed by the Parliament in the budget session in July 2019. It provides for the surveillance, inspection, operation, and maintenance of specified dams across the country. It also provides for an institutional mechanism to ensure the safety of such dams. 

What is the applicability of the Act? 

The Bill applies to all specified dams in the country. These are dams with: 

(i) Height more than 15 metres. 

(ii) Height between 10 metres to 15 metres and subject to certain additional design and structural conditions. 

What are the highlights of the Dam Safety Act? 

The highlights of this bill are: 

1) Proper surveillance, inspection, operation and maintenance of all specified dams in the country to ensure their safe functioning. 

2) Constitution of a National Committee on Dam Safety which will be chaired by the Chairperson, Central Water Commission. Functions are (i) formulating policies and regulations regarding dam safety standards and prevention of dam failures (ii) analysing causes of major dam failures and suggesting changes in dam safety practices. 

3) Establishment of National Dam Safety Authority which will be headed by an officer, not below the rank of an Additional Secretary, who will be appointed by the central government. Functions are (i) implementing the policies formulated by the National Committee on Dam Safety, (ii) resolving issues between State Dam Safety Organisations (iii) providing accreditation to agencies working on construction, design, and alteration of dams. 

4) State governments will establish State Dam Safety Organisations (SDSOs). Functions are: (i) keeping perpetual surveillance, inspecting, and monitoring the operation and maintenance of dams, (ii) keeping a database of all dams, and (iii) recommending safety measures to owners of dams. 

5) Constitution of State Committees whose functions are (i) reviewing the work of the SDSO, (ii) ordering dam safety investigations (iii) assessing the potential impact on upstream and downstream states. These states will also have their representatives on the State Committee. 

What are the offences that Act provide for? 

Two types of offences. These are: 

What is the significance of the Act? 

The significance of the Act is: 

1) The Act will help all the States and Union Territories of India to adopt uniform dam safety procedures. Help in safeguarding human life, livestock and property. 

2) Addresses issues like regular inspection of dams, Emergency Action Plan, comprehensive dam safety review, adequate repair and maintenance funds for dam safety, Instrumentation and Safety Manuals. 

What are the concerns for some states and environmentalists? 

Some states, like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Orissa has their objection that water being a state subject, the central government is appropriating their powers over water and dam management in the guise of dam safety. Thus, states are saying it is antifederal. But the fact is the dam safety is not mentioned anywhere in the 3 Lists in the Seventh Schedule and so is a residuary power and thus belongs to the Union Government.

Environmentalists like Himanshu Thakkar says while there is an urgent need for such a safety mechanism, it should not be limited to structural safety of dams but extend to operational safety also as disasters happen more due to the latter. 

Points to remember are: 

1) Over the last fifty years, India has invested substantially in dams and related infrastructures, and ranks third after USA and China in the number of large dams. 5256 large dams are in operation in the country currently and another 448 are under construction. 75 percent of the large dams in India are more than 25 years old and about 164 dams are more than 100 years old 

2) India has had 36 dam failures in the past. 

3) G S Damor (BJP) said that India should build big dams taking into consideration demand for large quantity of water. 

4) DMK's A Raja said the bill is an onslaught on the federal structure.